Seminar für Orientalische Archäologie und KunstgeschichteMartin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg
Institut für Altertumswissenschaften
Seminar für Orientalische Archäologie und Kunstgeschichte
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Grabung Tell Chuera, Syrien

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Tell Chuera 1998-1999
The 21st and 22nd Campaigns of Excavations

The 21st campaign of excavations at Chuera was conducted between August, 21 and October, 15 of 1998. Members of the team were: Ildikó Bösze (Frankfurt), Dorothea Erbe (Halle), Christian Falb (Frankfurt), Heinrich Geerdes (Varel), Matthias Gütte (Halle), Stefan Jakob (Saarbrücken), Klaus Krasnik (Frankfurt), Jan-Waalke Meyer (field director, Frankfurt), Winfried Orthmann (field director, Halle), Angelina Poppke (Frankfurt), Alexander Pruß (Halle), Pia Rudolf (Frankfurt), Emmanuelle Vila-Meyer (Frankfurt), Rebecca Wegener (Halle), Jürgen Zech (Halle), Jens Zulauf (Frankfurt) und Agnieszka Zysek (Warschau). About 80 workers from surrounding villages were employed. Syrian representative was Mr. Murhaf al-Halaf from Raqqa.

Work in areas A (Steinbau 1), B (Steinbau 2), F (Palace) was continued and a new field S (Steinbau 6) was opened. A symbolic key ceremony marked the handing-over of responsibility from Winfried Orthmann to Jan-Waalke Meyer. The Chuera project is now based at Goethe University of Frankfurt.

The 22nd campaign between August, 5 and September, 26 of 1999 was basicly a study season, aimed at the processing of stored pottery from previous seasons. Besides there was limited excavation work in three areas to clear some open questions. These were areas B (Steinbau 2), F (Palace) and S (Steinbau 6). The team consisted of Marit Baer (Halle), Lotte Droß (Frankfurt), Dorothea Erbe (Halle), Matthias Gütte (Halle), Stefan Jakob (Saarbrücken), Daniela Jänisch (Frankfurt), Klaus Krasnik (Frankfurt), Sandra Krebs (Frankfurt), Jan-Waalke Meyer (field director, Frankfurt), Angelina Poppke (Frankfurt), Alexander Pruß (Halle), Sinje Stoyke (Frankfurt) and Rebecca Wegener (Halle). The Syrian General Direction of Antiquities and Museums was again represented by Murhaf al-Halaf from Raqqa.

The following report covers the results of both seasons.

Area A (Steinbau 1)

Investigations of Steinbau 1, a foundation building of a temple constructed mainly of mud-bricks were finished. By removing stone layers of the interior, the building's history and construction details shhould be cleared.

The general construction of the Steinbau with a massive limestone shell and filling layers in the interior was already known. The interior is separated by a stone wall which also served as foundation for the wall between Antecella and Cella of the temple. The filling differs on both sides of this wall. The eastern part, near the entrance, consists of at least 4 layers of stone sepatated by ash and earth layers. The western part is less massive, here earth filling is predominant which were covered by a stone layer. The stone layers of the eastern part correspond with earth floors in the west.

All layers mentioned, except the uppermost stone layer, are markedly sloping to the east. They represent working surfaces rather than really used floors, existing only a short period of time during the construction of Steinbau 1. The ramps at the eastern front of the building (unearthed during earlier seasons) are connected with these working surfaces and only the stairways on top of the ramps belong to the Steinbau's periods of use.

Opposite the base of the staircase leading up to Steinbau 1 a small, apparently isolated room was excavated which belongs to level 7b2 predating the construction of the Steinbau 1 itself. The entrance into the nearly square room is situated in the west. Some broad steps lead up to a kind of podium. Within this room and, even more, before its door, several seal-impressions, mainly on door sealings, were found.

Area B West (Steinbau 1/2)

Steinbau 2 is a massive gateway giving access to the temple area around Steinbau 1. Between the gate and the staircase leading up to Steinbau 1 existed an area which remained open after the erection of Steinbau 2. This square was paved with pebbles (level 3a); its limit to the south is a terrace wall encircling the whole temple area.

As preparation for this square, the interior of the temple terrace was filled up with earth and ash layers accumulating up to 4m. This filling buried older buildings, along them a bipartite structure filled up with mud-bricks. This building of still uncleard use is earlier than Steinbau 2 and belongs to level 3b of Area B. Another horizon under this structure (level 4) can be connected with level 7b2 buildings of Area A, already predating Steinbau 1.

Level 3a terminates in a burned layer marking the end of the temple square's use. The overlying level 2 yields already pottery of period Chuera IE, it can hence be dated to the last phase of the Third Millennium settlement.

Tomb 98.B.01

From a level 2 floor a pit was sunk into the burnt debris of layer 3a. In this pit a stone chamber tomb was erected. The walls of the chamber consist of roughly worked limestones, it was covered by limestone slabs. The interior was filled with loose soil. The burial was undisturbed.

Bones were found in one of the vessels placed in the tomb and scattered on the floor. All bones were burned. In the vessel were parts of a human skull, the other bones belong to two or more human individuals and to a sheep, a goat and a dog.

The tomb contained a rich weapon equipment, especially of bronze artifacts: a macehead, three lanceheads, a short dagger, several blades and an axe were found on the grave's floor. The axe's back is decorated with a recumbant lion.

To be mentioned seperately are several parts of a larger-than-life statue. They all were parts of an anthropomorphic figure. Preserved are nose and parts of cheeks and forehead, an ear (all of bronze) and the eyes (of different stones and mother-of-pearl). All these pieces were presumably mounted on a core of perishable material (as wood or bitumen).

Several plates of a soft, grey stone show carved decoration on one side. It is unclear wheather they belong to the same statue or not.

The tomb is unique: The placement of a large statue in a tomb has no parallels in 3rd millennium Mesopotamia. Cremation burials of that period are extremely rare in the whole Near East. In an article to be published in the Journal Orient-Express Klaus Krasnik and Jan-Waalke Meyer point to the possibility of a cult image (propably the one of the Steinbau 1 temple) buried within that tomb.

Area B (Steinbau 2)

Recent investigations here were focussed on the area to the east and north of Steinbau 2. The structures unearthed belong to levels 3 and 4. Level 3 (period Chuera ID) is to be divided in two phases: several mud-brick buildings belong to level 3b; some of them are still in use in level 3a, after the construction of the Steinbau 2. Level 4 (Period IC) has different outlays of the buildings. The whole area sloped already in antiquity from north to south, it was terraced in all layers known so far.

From the north-east, a lane descents in level 3 towards the Steinbau 2. It separates areas of different function. In the east small-scale industrial units are situated, within them the eBakery" of the 1991 season. On the western side of the lane lies a substantially more massive building (B.III). The walls to the east and west are especially massive, measuring more than 1.50m in width. Their foundation is laid out in limestones. They form a strip 8m wide, which is subdivided in rectangular rooms by small interior walls. These rooms could only be entered from the southeast, i.e. from the lane; they have no mutual connection. Two of these rooms (no. 5 and 7) were uncovered completely, while the building seems to continue to the north. To the south, parts of the building B.III were cut away by Steinbau 2. Remarcably, the rear wall of these rooms lies in one line with the western limit of Steinbau 2. One may therefore assume that building B.III originally contained a transition room giving access to the Steinbau 1 courtyard. If this assumption is correct, Steinbau 2 has replaced an older, propably less representative gateway. The whole building B.III looks like an encirclement of the sacral area around Steinbau 1.

After the construction of Steinbau 2 (level 3a) room 5 became a passage between the lane and the gateway, providing access from the north. Both eastern and southern wall of the room were demolished; a gravel pavement marks the new fdloor level.

To level 4 building B.V with rooms 203 and 204 is belonging, but also two complexes furter north separated by a lane ore corridor. These rooms were used for storage and processing of goods, as proved by kilns, storage jars and other installations. Some of the rooms were blocked with mud-bricks at the end of their use, building a foundation for level 3 structures.

Area S (Steinbau 6)

During the bulldozer activity in the area K deep trench, some coarsly worked limestones were found in a row crossing the trench. Closer investigation of these stones made it clear that they belong to a seperate building, which proved to be a temple in antis placed on a stone foundation. The area was subsequently separated from area K and labelled as area S. The building itself is called Steinbau 6.

Level 1 consists badly preserved remains of period Chuera IIA, which is the Mitanni period. Middle Assyrian occupation is absent, as in area M. Just beneath the level 1 floor follows the mud debris of level 2, to which Steinbau 6 itself belongs. In the building's interior three subphases can be separated. Level 2c is the original floor of the temple. A new floor above the older one marks level 2b. Level 2a is preserved only in traces at several points of the building. Filling levels running against the socle were labelled as level 3, while level 4 floors are running under the socle. As judged by the western profile of the area K deep trench, level 4 may be contemporary with horizon III or IV of the habitation quarter K. Pottery allows the correlation of the area S levels with the Chuera sequence: level 3 belongs to period ID, levels 2c and 2b to a later phase of ID and level 2a already to Chuera IE. Steinbau 6 is thereby the latest of the temples known so far at Tell Chuera.

The building stood in a depression and was hereby conserved by soil washed in from more elevated places. It is conserved better than any other of the Chuera temples. Preserved are the socle and the stone foundation of the walls, the mud-brick walls themselves up to a height of 1m, several floor levels and some installations within the cella and the antecella. This temple of modest dimensions is therefore a good base for reconstructing comparable buildings, like Steinbau 1 or the Aussenbau.

The temple is oriented to the east with a deviation of 15 degrees to the south. It stands on a base 17.5m long, 11.5m wide and nearly 2m high. The socle is constructed with slightly worked limestone blocks covered with mud plaster. If this block contains an outer massive shell and interior soil and stone layers (like Steinbau 1 and 3) could not be proved. Its surface seems to be covered by a stone layer, such stones were found at least in a trench in the south-east of the building.

The temple walls are placed 40 to 50cms to the interior of the socle's limit. The temple itself is 16.8m long and 10.3m wide. The interior measurement of the cella is 11 to 7.8m, the antecella measures 3.3 to 7.8m. A stairway 4m wide leads to the antecella from the east, starting at a pebble-paved area of yet unknown limitations. The pavement of this square was renewed several times, thus reducing the number of visible steps from originally 7 to 4 at the end. The original level is to be correlated with the first floor level in the cella and belongs therefore to level 2c. The correlation of the latest pebble floor with level 2b is plausible, but less evident since the unchanged stairway allows no secure startigraphic link.

The antecella consists of a central area in front of the cella's door and two lateral areas to the north and south of the central area. Both lateral parts were slightly elevated and have L-shaped benches along the walls. A raised edge separates these areas from the central passage. Floors were renewed repeatedly without substantial change of the general outlay. A small wall and an installed jar in the southern part belong already to level 2a.

Originally the cella and antecella had the same elevation. This level 2c floor of the cella is reached only in a small part near the southern corner. The level 2b floor was uncovered where it was preserved, it lies ca. 50cms above the first floor, the cella was entered by a three-step staircase with stone steps.

At the rear wall of the cella, opposite the entrance, a mud-brick platform of ca. 2 to 1.2m was placed, corresponding with a kind of buttress on the outside wall. This installation can be interpreted as dais for the cult image. Further installations are a table summary="(table formats the page)" at the northern wall with two installed potstands before its base. To the east of the table summary="(table formats the page)", a bench lies in front of the northern wall. In the center of the cella, aligned to the entrance, lies a flat stone structure similar to a foundation but without preserved superstructure. Its function remains uncertain.

To the left of the dais a small wall separates a tiny room. On a level 2b floor 10 broken but completely preserved bottles were found, once belonging to the temple inventory. Some other jars were installed within the temple, but th rest of the inventory is gone, since the temple was abandoned peacefully.

Area F (Palace)

The last two years's work was committed mainly to the palace of level 2 (of period Chuera ID late). The efforts were focussed on the clkearing of the following questions: What is the outlay of rooms in the southwest and how are they connected? How were upper and lower terrace connected during level 2a? Was there a connection of court 2 and the long room 4 and what was room 4 used for? The results lead to a reinterpretation of the northwestern wing of the palace.

Level 1 was reached only in new trenches and removed baulks; bringing only little new evidence for this level (period Chuera IE). In square Cj.VI4 several rooms of small privat houses of levels 1c and 1b were uncovered. In square Cg.VI3 further parts of an already known production-used court of level 1c and a rich pottery inventory of a level 1b room were unearthed.

A circular structure with a diameter of more than 3m belongs to level 1b, too. It was built in a pit, sunk ca. 90cms into level 2, cutting the walls of some palace rooms (43, 44 and 45). The structure was preserved to a height of 1.2m, consisting of massive mud-brick on the exterior and pise filling in the interior. The preserved part seem to be only substruction for a building atop, but no traces of a stairway or a superstructure were found. Propably this was the base of a watchtower; but it is also plausible to think of a raised grain storage facility.

In the south-western wing of the palace all baulks still standing were removed. Rooms 36 and 47 were thought to be separate units, but they proved to be parts of only one long room (now called 47). This space had a large number of installations (kilns, fireplaces, shelves, benches) identifying it as kitchen and food storage room. The floor is covered by a huge number of superimposed ash-layers which accumulated during the room's use.

Room 31 further to the east was excavated already during the 1995 and 1996 seasons. It became apparent that the access to this room was altered in the course of its use. In level 2b (the time of the palace proper) it was accessible from room 34 and hereby linked to the kitchen wing south of court 16. This door was blocked in level 2a and a new door to court 44 (containing working installations) was opened. This is another confirmation for the separation of the palace in independent compartments already in level 2a.

The rectangular court 44 was several times paved with pebbles. In level 2a small mud-brick walls were added, which separated small rooms. Most of these walls were removed to reach the original floor of level 2b. This floor contained working-places, kilns were installed within this court. The court is crossed by a drainage channel sloping to the west. The channel walls are built of stones up to 50cms big, it was covered with big stone slabs. It drained not only court 44, but also court 16, where it starts. First leading to the south, it bends under the small storage room 45 to the west. A secondary drain starting at the bathroom 43 mouths into the main channel. In level 2a a drainage pit cuts the channel, its western part was no longer used then.

From room 54 originate the only hints for administrative actions within the palace. Several pits were sunk into the pebble pavement of this room. In two of them, 6 clay sealings with impressions (e.g. 98.F.140) of one cylinder seal were found, most of them door sealings. Room 54 could be locked and was propably used for the storage of precious goods or items to be controlled carefully.

In 1992, several stone slabs north of room 11 were discovered, forming a ramp sloping down to the north. The ramp could be traced for 2.5m then. It is connected to a level 2a floor of room 11. It was tempting to suggest that this ramp gave access to the rooms of the upper terrace, since the staircase in the eastern wing of the building has been already blocked then. The relation of level 2a floors in both terrace levels remain uncertain until the 1998 campaign, likewise the floor level of the original building phase (level 2b) in the north-western wing.

The stone ramp could be traced in a length of 13.5m to the north. It has a descent of 15% thus spanning a height difference of ca. 1.90m. Adjacent to the east of the ramp is an open space (room 5), some kind of glacis, 11m in width. Despite some small walls there are no features on that glacis. The ramp starts at the southern end of a door linking room 50 with the open space 5. The entrance to the level 2a building must have been in the north.

A floor adjacent to the west of the ramp leads through a door in room 41 of the lower terrace. From here, further rooms of the north-western wing of the palace were accessible. It could be proved herewith that the lower terrace was not (as thought until then) completely abandoned in level 2a, but still in use in its nort-western part. Some rooms were inhabited even during level 1c. The floors uncovered in the north-west of the palace in 1995 are thus not belonging to level 2b, but to level 1c. After recognizing this excavation work was re-started in several rooms of that wing. Level 2b floors are significantly lower than previously expected, they are very carefully made. The interpretation of these rooms as economic wing can not longer be sustained, since the ovens and installations found here belong to the re-use of level 1. Originally this part of the palace has been a rather representative domestic wing, linked to the upper terrace by a small staircase.

The lower terrace rooms further to the east came, however, out of use and were built over by the ramp and the glacis of room 5. The old walls were cut down to the level of the ramp, except for the parts adjacent to the outer walls of the new room 5, where they remained as small buttresses. Two of these buttresses on both eastern and western part of the glacis correspond to each other. The largest of the buried structures is room 53, characterized as a reception room by the carefull execution of its interior and low benches along the walls.

A section to the east of the ramp provides further information on the building history of the lower terrace and its decay. At the end of level 2a some palace walls collapsed. The position of the bricks shows that the walls running east-west collapsed first, followed by the walls running north-south. On top of this collapsed-walls layer, which is up to 1.50m thick, are the floors of level 1c, during which some palace rooms were still in use.

Courtyard 3 linked the main entrance which is supposed to have been in the eroded eastern part of the palace to the upper terrace. The latter was reached by a staircase and distribution room 7. The court was investigated already between 1987 and 1990. A stepped doorway in the north-western corner of the court leads to space 2, of which only small parts were excavated then. The aims of the renewed works in this wing were the clearing of structure and use of this room and its connection with the long room 4 further to the west.

Most of room 2 was excavated during the two seasons. Its size (ca. 10 to 12m) leads to a reconstruction as open courtyard. However, the same type of pavement (small pebbles embedded in lime plaster) is occuring in covered rooms of the palace. Hence, even a covering of this room can not be ruled out. But in this case one has to reconstruct wooden pillars of which no traces were found. The space was found absolutely empty and has no installations in the part excavated. A functional interpretation is difficult therefore, but position and execution of the room indicate a representative or at least official use.

Contrary to our assumptions of 1990, there is no extraordinarily thick wall between rooms 2 and 4, but a very narrow (80cms) corridor (51) parallel to room 4. In level 2b, the only entrance to this corridor of 16m length was in the south. It must have been out of use then, since it is to narrow to be used as a storeroom. Since older walls of level 3 were still in use in this part of the palace, which were altered in the north of rooms 4 and 51, one may assume that room 51 originally served as entrance corridor for room 4.

In its layout, room 4 preserves the structures of level 3. It is preserved up a height of 3m. During level 2b it was used as storeroom, later it was blocked by mudbricks and came out of use.

In the eastern part of the palace we recognized a cavity in 1998 which had appeared without recent human activity. Earth had sunk down for ca. 2m. Since the cavity had become even larger when we came back in the summer of 1999 and since it seem to enlarge itself to the south, we opened two trenches to its south. It should be found out if there was an antique hollow space (e.g. a burial) below the palace.

In both trenches a massive mud-brick structure of 1m thickness was found ca. 60cms below modern surface level. The recent hole was formed when a cavity underneath this mud-brick terrace caused a caving-in of the bricks; it thus is not connected with this brick structure. The upper edge of the terrace ends just under the floor of room/court 2 and is to be connected with similar terraces under the court 3 floors. These terraces were apparently built to prepare the ground before the erection of the level 2b palace. It should secure an even and durable substructure of that building.

Only in the northern trench excavation was carried on and presented a sequence of ashes and red soil, but no architectural structures as walls or soils. Here, we obviously found layers filled in from builddings some distance apart. Their soft consistence made the worries of the palace builders understandable. The filled layers accumulated over a considerable time-span at that point, since pottery shaped became more and more earlier the deeper the excavation proceeded. Parallels to such waste and debris layers were found at many places of the site, most impressively in the central area K. When we ceased the work after a depth of more than 3m had been reached, pottery shapes belong already to an earlier stage of Period Chuera IC. Pottery inventory of these layers is considerably rich. From one of the ash layers came considerably much animal remains, mostly gazelle horns (from 20 individuals at least, according to E. Vila). They are propably remains of specialized craftsmen's ateliers.

When excavation work ended for safety reasons, no clear explanation for the cavity which lead us to dig here could be found. A tomb connected with the level 2 palace can, however, ruled out, since the mud-brick terrace separates level2 from the older layers.

The recent excavations of area F brought many new results for the building history of the palace. They can be summarized as follows:

  1. Construction of an official building in the area of the upper palace terrace (level 3)
  2. Building of a mud-brick terrace in the area adjacent to the east
  3. Erection of a terraced palace on top of the level 3 building and to the north and east of it (level 2b2)
  4. Enlargement of the palace to the west (level 2b1, 13)
  5. Abandonment of the lower terrace in the east and north-east and building of the glacis. End of official use and beginning of pottery production (level 2a, 14)
  6. Collapse of some palace walls an re-use of many palace rooms at a higher floor level (level 1c)
  7. Building of mainly small houses on top of the palace walls and re-use of some palace rooms. Peak of pottery production (level 1b)
  8. Existence of small rooms independent of palace walls' layout (level 1a)
  9. Abandonment of the place (and the whole site) before the end of the 3rd millennium.

Compilation: A.Pruß

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